ALLENTOWN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- An investigation is underway into PPL Electric Utilities after hearing from hundreds of customers about unusually high bills.
State investigators are looking into why the bills are so high as well as the accuracy and integrity of PPL's billing practices.
"What really sent us into sticker shock was the December bill," said Bruce Knipe of Sellersville, Bucks County.
Knipe and his wife are on budget billing but say their actual usage charges increased 66 percent. He compared December 2021 to December 2022. He said the bill went from $504 to $838.
And adding insult to injury: while their charges went up their usage went down.
"I used 735 more kilowatt hours last year than I did this year," Knipe said.
On the supply side, PPL's charge was about 7 to 7.5-cents per kilowatt-hour at the end of 2021. That's doubled to 14.6-cents per kilowatt-hour.
On the distribution side, there's a new fee on his latest bill that Knipe says he's never seen.
"There's something called a system improvement charge which is an additional five percent," he said. "I'd like to know where it came from and how long they intend to keep it on there."
Knipe says he and his wife have tried calling PPL.
"They said your estimated wait time's 135 minutes," he said.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has now launched an investigation saying it's been inundated by PPL customers in the last two weeks.
"It is an unusually high volume of calls," said PUC Spokesman Nils Hagen-Frederiksen. "It is hundreds of calls and emails. Our staff is still going through them to sort them out."
In a letter, PPL does apologize, saying it's "fallen short... in both our billing and responsiveness to customers..." and is now "adding more agents to answer calls and reduce wait times."
PPL also says it's fixed a technical issue that caused a significant number of bills sent from December 20 through January 9 to be estimated. It says it will not shut off power to customers for non-payment through March 31 and is waiving all late fees in January and February.
As for the high energy supply costs, PPL says it has no control and recommends people shop for electricity suppliers.
The PUC also says that system improvement charge is used by many utilities to recoup their costs to replace aging infrastructure. Utilities do have to get approval to use it and the amounts are monitored by the PUC.
The PUC encourages customers of any utility to reach out with questions or issues.
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According to the PUC:
The Distribution System Improvement Charge (sometimes abbreviates as DSIC) is a change that is used to recover utility spending to accelerate the replacement of aging infrastructure. It is used by many electric, natural gas, water and wastewater utilities, and the percentage amount varies based on the actual cost of infrastructure projects - so the DSIC can increase or decrease (within limits), or even reset to 0% at times. Utilities apply for approval to use the DSIC, the percentage for the DSIC is capped as part of that application process, and the DSIC amounts are monitored by the PUC.
The DSIC goes hand-in-hand with a utilities Long Term Infrastructure Improvement Plan (LTIIP), which are also reviewed and approved by the Commission. Those plans serve as the roadmap for infrastructure improvement work over a multi-year period. So, the LTIIP lays out all the improvement work that a utility plans to accomplish and the DSIC helps accelerate that process.
The DSIC was originally developed to help accelerate improvements for water and wastewater systems, but the legislature approved the option for electric and natural gas utilities to use the DSIC in 2012. Click here to see the the 2012 act.